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Anchor worried she 'might throw up' on camera

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN.com Live anchor's curiosity beats butterflies at first U.S. "Zorb" site
  • Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, also offers indoor skydiving, Dollywood, go-karts
  • "Zorbonauts" enter plastic Zorb ball and bounce 1,000 feet downhill at 30 mph
  • Indoor skydiving over jet engine "more difficult than it looks"
  • Next Article in Travel »
By Melissa Long
CNN
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Editor's note: Views expressed are those of the author. For a different perspective on Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, read this account from CNN.com humorist Jarrett Bellini.

PIGEON FORGE, Tennessee (CNN) -- When asked if I wanted to bounce down a hill while inside a gigantic inflatable plastic ball, I have to admit, I was intrigued.

Long and photographer Paul Chase pose in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with a car from TV's "Dukes of Hazzard."

"My nerves were in overdrive," says CNN.com Live's Melissa Long before her Zorb adventure.

My nerves were in overdrive since I was worried I might throw up, and on camera nonetheless, since I'd be harnessed to the interior of this PVC ball as it bounced haphazardly down a hill at up to 30 mph.

My curiosity beat out any butterflies, and I signed up for the adventure with two of my CNN.com colleagues.

We mapped out our 248-mile trek from downtown Atlanta, Georgia, to Tennessee and packed light. However, I've learned to always have snacks handy to ward off any munchy urges in between bathroom breaks.

And, of course, driving can be quite an adventure! I grew up playing "I spy" and checking out license plates. This time, we fiddled with satellite radio and iPods, and then despite endless musical options, we realized the real entertainment came from chatting about the small towns we drove through, telling jokes, or attempting to be funny, and learning more about each other. See map of our route »

After nearly a tank of gas and 3 hours on the road, we arrived in Pigeon Forge. With the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop, we were quickly overwhelmed by the commercialism and realized you could find just about everything you would ever need on this 5-mile stretch known as the "Parkway," or just off of it, including the first North American Zorb site. The Zorb hails from New Zealand and there are fewer than a dozen spots in the world to try it.

There are two options if you want to achieve the status of a "Zorbonaut." Sign up for the Zorbit run and you'll be harnessed inside the Zorb. At the top of the hill, you'll climb through the Zorb's two foot entry hole and once you're buckled in, the rodeo gate opens and an employee shouts, "Zorb!"

For the next 30 seconds, you'll bounce up and down, left and right, as the sky and ground appear and then reappear, and you lose all sense of orientation. A child at this site described the experience to me and said it was like being inside a washing machine. I would also say it's similar to the unpredictable path of one of those 10-cent vending machine bouncing balls. Video Watch my Zorb experience »

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

  • How far: 250 miles
  • Gas cost: $135
  • How long: 2 days
  • The other option is to try the Zydro which won't toss you upside down. Instead, you'll speed down the hill just as you would on a waterslide, except this time you're sitting in water and surrounded by clear, flexible plastic that echoes your laughs. You can't possibly make it down the 1,000-foot track without getting soaked!

    Personally, I preferred the Zydro experience since you can climb into the ball with a friend and share the zigzagging. When you're harnessed and bouncing solo, you can scream or smile all you want, but there's no one to laugh with.

    Indoor skydiving

    We quickly discovered the Zorb isn't the only facility for people craving excitement in Pigeon Forge. Photo See photos of our trip »

    There's a smorgasbord of activities such as Dolly Parton's famed theme park, Dollywood, go-karts, water rides, laser tag and indoor skydiving.

    Several years ago, I went skydiving and was anxious to compare.

    Here's a perfect example of a first impression being terribly wrong! I thought indoor skydiving would be easy. Real skydiving was a cinch in comparison since I was strapped to an expert who did the bulk of the work and all I really had to do was get the courage to do it and admire the view below.

    After a short video and training class at this U.S. Flyaway facility, you'll be fitted for the full body suit, goggles, helmet and earplugs. The earplugs will come in handy since the wind tunnel is loud from the jet engine which creates the 120-mph column of air inside. Depending on your abilities, you may find yourself from three to 12 feet above a metal, mesh-like trampoline secured over the jet engine. Video Watch me learn to fly indoors »

    Other tourists also properly suited are allowed inside, and one at a time you'll be motioned onto the mesh to learn to "fly" with the trained instructor.

    At first, operators wait until you're flat on your stomach on top of the wire grate to really fire up the engine. Once you get a feel for it, you'll "dive" or jump, which is more difficult than it looks.

    With indoor skydiving, just like with regular skydiving, you must properly position your lower back, head, arms and legs. Even the slightest movement can alter your alignment, and you may find yourself curled up in a ball on the padding which lines the funnel.

    I'll admit I never came close to mastering the techniques. Expert skydivers often rely on wind tunnel facilities to try out their tricks before performing them after jumping out of a plane. I was thankful one of the instructors, who had worked at the Pigeon Forge facility for 12 years, was willing to show off his amazing acrobatic abilities!

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    In addition to the thrills, just like the Las Vegas Strip lined with hotels and casinos, the Pigeon Forge "Parkway" is packed with small affordable motels and larger hotels. There are also endless souvenir shops and chain restaurants lining the street.

    Designed for "family fun," all of these attractions transform this tiny town of 5,800 residents into a major destination for more than 10 million visitors a year looking for excitement. And of course, there's another kind of adventure waiting just a few miles up the road, in the Great Smoky Mountains.

    Melissa Long is an anchor for CNN.com Live which is CNN.com's live streaming news service. For more on CNN.com Live follow the link.

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